Flagstaff’s Village Baker Breaks Bread with Furloughed Federal Workers

Jan 25, 2019

As the federal government shutdown continues communities are stepping up to help furloughed employees and contractors. They’re offering a wide range of services—everything from food to acupuncture and even laser tag.  Beth Heenan owns the Village Baker in Flagstaff and is trying to make the shutdown’s impacts a little less acute by offering the most basic form of sustenance: bread. She spoke with KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius.

Village Baker employee Jenna Exley rings up a customer.
Credit Ryan Heinsius

Ryan Heinsius: What made you want to step up and offer bread to folks who’ve been furloughed?

Beth Heenan: What started out is we had some very good friends who work for the Forest Service mention that they were going to the food bank to get groceries for themselves and their two small children. And we already donate bread to the food bank so we just thought we’d just cut the middle person out and go directly to people that we knew were in need at this time.

RH: What’s been the response? Are people taking you up on it?

BH: It’s been an amazing response, and it feels really good. I would say on a daily basis I have seen at least 15 people come in. And originally, people also were saying they weren’t going to come in to take us up on it because they didn’t think that they would need to, but the longer the shutdown continues the more people are coming in because they’re realizing it helps.

RH: You’re asking that people just pay it forward. Maybe you can tell me a little bit about that philosophy.

BH: We figured that once people start to get their paychecks and the government reopens that they will do something for somebody else in need whenever they’re able to, whenever the opportunity presents itself. And in that way it spreads. I think our community is tremendous. I think that we are just so fortunate, and at the end of the day Flagstaff is a family, and everyone looks out for one another.

RH: And there’s a group of businesses in town helping underwrite this effort.

BH: Yes, Bella Investment Group. As soon as we made our announcement that we were going to be offering bread, they came in and offered a donation to subsidize our effort. Thanks to them we are now able not only to offer bread, but also offer coffee and pastries, which financially we wouldn’t have been able to before, so it’s coming from all areas, which is really tremendous.

RH: I think of federal workers, and maybe especially workers in national parks, as being these sort of rugged individualists who are self-sufficient. Have you seen any folks who might otherwise find it difficult to accept help when they’re so used to being self-reliant?

BH: Oh yeah, we’ve had several different individuals who’ve come in and they’re very appreciative. And there’s also people that are coming in with their children, and they don’t know how they’re going to pay their mortgage and, as I said, they’re going to the food bank. Every sort of individual, shape, size, what have you has come in. It’s been very interesting. Once the government reopens, we’re still going to be offering this for a period of time, because people, they’re not going to just all the sudden be OK. People have been going without a paycheck for quite some time and so they’re kind of going to need a time period to get back on their feet.

RH: Bread is so basic and fundamental. Do you think of supporting the federal workers in this time in sort of more symbolic terms? The concept of breaking bread.

BH: I was able when I was young to spend a lot of time with my grandfather and he was a plumber and he always helped people in need, bringing them water if they didn’t have running water and things of that nature. And I always remember him continually saying, “When you can, you do.” So if you can help someone, you help them, it’s not a question. And so to be able to provide food, it is very symbolic to me. I feel very, very fortunate to be in the position to be able to do this.

To help local furloughed federal workers receive free bread, contact the Village Baker at (928) 773-9310. 

For a list of local businesses offering services to workers impacted by the shutdown, see the Arizona Daily Sun's growing list.